Since March, people’s attention has been focusedly almost entirely on the pandemic and the resulting damage to the economy. But there’s a big story in California that hasn’t gotten as much attention.
Many areas north of San Jose all the way to the Oregon border got less precipitation this past winter than they have had in the last 50 years. And some areas, including Winters, set or tied records for lowest precipitation in recorded history and are now officially in a drought. Some climate scientists it is part of a long-termer “megadrought” that includes the drought of the mid twenty-teens.
Meanwhile, most areas in Southern California met or exceeded their annual averages. San Francisco got less rain than San Diego, and Sacramento about the same as Bakersfield. The ratios are normally 2 to 1 or greater. The redwoods forests of far northwestern California are in a “severe” drought while the Imperial Valley — normally one of the driest parts of the state — had a wetter than average year.
Despite the alarmingly low precipitation in northern areas, there are a few mitigating factors. First, last year was one of the wettest years on record, so all of our reservoirs are still quite full. There will be no water shortages this year. Lake Berryessa — Terra Firma’s primary water source — is still at 85% capacity.
Second, Southern California will take less of our water than they usually do. They had several major storms hit in recent months that helped fill their reservoirs and irrigate their crops.
For farmers, it’s always a balance between wanting rain to fill up the reservoirs but not so much that it prevents us from getting into the fields to harvest and conduct other critical tasks. Long periods of rain also tend to cause disease in crops.
You won’t find too many farmers in Northern California complaining about the weather this spring. Not at least since February, when it began to feel alarmingly like summer…way too soon. But since then it has been just wet enough to avoid irrigation, without impacting our work.
Here at Terra Firma, it has meant that we have able to meet all of our planting deadlines. For our CSA subscribers that will translate into a relative abundance of fruits and vegetables for the rest of the spring and into summer.
The most immediate concern is this year’s fire season, which could start early and last many months. That will depend on the weather in the summer and fall.
The most critical test will be next winter. We’ll need at least an average rainfall year to avoid entering a longer drought. For much of the last ten years we’ve been in a see-sawing regime back and forth between too-dry years and years that arguably are “too wet” — at least from a farmer’s perspective.
Today is Earth Day; I’m not sure it’s still appropriate to use the word “Happy” in the same sentence. Rather than a celebration, a solemn reflection of our utter dependence on the planet seems more in order these days, and perhaps an apology.